Study Shows Alcohol Is Still Region’s Biggest Problem

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While hard drugs are still very much a part of the regional landscape, the main abuse trend is still alcohol, according to an official study.

The Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring (OSAM) Network released a study on drug abuse trends in the Athens region, which extends the length of southeast Ohio, from Gallia County to Coshocton County.

Participants in the study were "active and recovering drug users recruited from alcohol and other drug treatment programs in Athens, Hocking and Muskingum counties," according to the study.

Drug consumer characteristics in the study found that more females than males were using drugs based on the 40 participants surveyed for the study. Drug users were typically in their 20s or less than 20 years old, high school graduates with an average household income of $11,000.

While heroin, sedatives and prescription opioids ranked high on the list of drugs used, alcohol still topped the statistics easily, followed by marijuana use, according to the study.

Local law enforcement in Athens said the findings are not surprising, and not unlike the activity they see on the streets.

"When I was on the road, probably close to 70 percent of the calls would be for alcohol," said Lt. Jason Kline of the Athens County Sheriff's Office.

OSAM investigators used data from sources like local law enforcement and the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. They collected data from various sources from January to December 2013.

Kline said while busts for drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine are very thorough, investigators typically don't look for the presence of alcohol.

"Of course, it's legal to own alcohol so it's not something we're focusing on when we're doing those type of (busts)," Kline said.

Participants in the study said heroin and opioids like Percocet and Vicodin, as well as opioid-addiction treatment drug Suboxone were considered "highly available" in the region. Those who helped with the study were not named but identified by their county of residence.

"It's so easy to doctor shop in this county," said one Athens County resident in the study. "You could go right now. Just say you fell down some steps and you think you dislocated your shoulder."

The study also used media reports to enhance their data, including stories from Athens. The case of Aileen Mays, a woman who was arrested for allowing a registered sex offender to have sex with a 16-year-old in exchange for prescription drugs and money, was included along with many other arrest stories from around the region.

Suboxone, a drug used by treatment centers to help people get off opiates, is a part of the drug culture as well, according to the study. The drug is often obtained from a doctor or a health agency, but is being sold on the streets as well, according to the study.

Participants in the study said the drug has become more available as people have become addicted to heroin.

The study did show a decrease in some drug availability, like meth.

"Law enforcement reported that availability of methamphetamine has decreased during the past six months in Athens County," the study stated.

Kline said the decline shown in the statistics is accurate with what deputies have been seeing.

"(Meth) started getting popular about 10 years ago, then it took a bit of a curve," Kline said. "It could have picked up a bit because of the price of the other drugs but nothing too obvious."

The price of drugs and the low income of many drug users in the area may be part of the reason alcohol is still the top of the charts when it comes to usage, Kline said.

But with access to the Internet, drugs of all sorts are more readily available at a price anyone would be willing to pay, which is something both Kline and the study agreed upon.

Dr. Joe Gay, executive director of Health Recovery Services, has said in multiple interviews with The Messenger that more work needs to be done to stop the black market sales of opioids and increase availability of treatment for addiction.

“For every one opiate addict that came through our doors in 2000, 50 more are coming in today,” Gay said.